There was something different about Creamline late Sunday night.
Bernadeth Pons was leading the team in scoring. Kyle Negrito was pulling the strings on offense. Tots Carlos punched in limited minutes along with Alyssa Valdez. Starting setter Jia de Guzman was in Japan, where she will play as an import for the Denso Airybees. Libero Kyla Atienza and Ced Domingo, two team regulars, were out for health reasons.
About the only thing familiar about the Cool Smashers on Sunday were their bright pink uniforms and the fact that they still are the masters of Choco Mucho.
Oh, and their culture.
“I guess that’s the nice thing about Pons and Creamline is we inspire each other, we motivate each other,” Valdez said. “It’s just so nice to see everyone respect each other in the team and the culture that we live by.”
And as the Flying Titans found out, that culture might be enough to carry Creamline in the Premier Volleyball League All-Filipino Conference, where the team looks to be in a transition phase, but one that has presented coach Sherwin Meneses with a “good problem.”
“[We’re] very unpredictable. We don’t know who’s going to play because everyone deserves a spot on the team,” said Valdez after Creamline’s 25-18, 25-16, 24-26, 25-21 victory over Choco Mucho in front of 14,014 fans at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. “I think that’s the beauty of the Cool Smashers, everyone’s really stepping up, whoever coach decides to play. So, I guess that’s a good problem for coach Sherwin and hopefully it becomes an advantage this conference.”
Pons led Creamline with 22 points while Michele Gumabao added 20 points. Negrito, who has some very big shoes to fill, lobbed 23 excellent sets to a lot of willing hitters.
“We are happy to get the win, especially against Choco Mucho who is one of the contenders in this conference. We are okay because we are a veteran team so we will be able to adjust,” Meneses said of his new-look starters after making it 9-0 (win-loss) head-to-head against the Flying Titans.
The Cool Smashers had a nervy start to the game, yielding three errors that made up their opponents’ first three points. Even Negrito admitted she battled “good nerves” early on.
“My team is very patient. Coach told us that this season, we really need to help each other out and work hard every single game and in training,” Negrito said.
Once Creamline settled down, however, Choco Mucho couldn’t find answers again, despite another powerful performance from former University of Santo Tomas star Sisi Rondina, who contributed 21 points on 19 kills.
Pons was a huge factor of the puzzle that the Flying Titans could not solve. The former Far Eastern University spearhead, Rondina’s teammate in the national beach volleyball squad, also added 11 excellent digs and seven receptions.
“I’m happy I’m back at a hundred percent. I really worked hard to rehab my injury and I know I have a lot to give to the team this conference,” Pons said. As Meneses works through the wealth of talent in his disposal, Creamline hopes to get its groove early to be in a strong position once its injured starters return.
“The most important thing for us is to be healthy every game. This is just Game 1 so there are still 10 games left,” Meneses said.
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“I am very proud of my teammates because [they work hard] in practice and the pressure and responsibility is so big and most especially we’re the champion last All-Filipino so we want to show that we are okay this conference,” Valdez said. “We really need to help each other even in the smallest things.” INQ